My wife and I wanted to watch a light film at home this past Saturday night and then go to bed early. We made the mistake of putting in the movie North Country, which came out in 2005. It was inspired by a landmark sexual harassment case that took place in a Minnesota coal mine. As I was watching the film, I was shocked by how mercilessly the protagonist Josey Aimes was treated by her co-workers, her family, and even the other women in the mine who were victims of the same sexual harassment. I said to my wife, “This seems a little bit over the top,” and she said, “Oh no, this is what women really deal with.” As I saw Josey standing up for her dignity with the whole world against her, I thought a real test of my Christian morality would be if I had the guts to stand up for her if I were working in that mine.
The gospel reading at my Monday mass was Luke 7:1-10, the story of the centurion whose servant is healed by Jesus without setting foot in his house. A line that the centurion says has become a key part of the weekly Eucharistic liturgy: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” There is something essential about that posture of humility for us to be able to encounter Christ authentically and receive the transformation that He wants to instill in us. I worry sometimes that Christians like me define ourselves so much against the overemphasis on human wickedness in fundamentalist Christianity that we end up having a blithe presumptuousness about Jesus’ grace in our lives which turns our prayer and worship life into a farce.
Should Christians “stay angry” at the injustice in our world? That’s a question raised in two different blog posts this week. Rachel Held Evans says she “can’t stay angry” even while she stays committed to her prophetic witness while my friend Rod the blerd (black nerd) theologian explains why he does “stay angry,” particularly at patronizing white moderates who presume to tell black people when to “just let it go.” I don’t see these two pieces as point and counter-point, nor do I interpret Rod’s piece as a dig on Rachel since she wasn’t telling black people what to do. Reading the way that Rachel and Rod accent and nuance the issue differently has forced me to really wrestle with what it means to be a genuine ally to people of color and others who have been marginalized in our battles against injustice.
There’s something attractive about Mark Driscoll to Methodists in a Clint Eastwood (pre-chair-incident) kind of way. We often see our denomination’s attendance decline as punishment for our unwillingness to “stand up for the truth,” “call sin a sin,” use words like hell and Satan and wrath in our sermons, etc. We’re surrounded by independent evangelical megachurches whose preachers have booming baritone voices that tell it like it is, which is why they’re growing faster than any tower Babel ever built. And then Driscoll tweets this:
I have a problem that perhaps you can relate to. I’m very good at taking sides according to the lines that the world draws for me rather than taking Jesus’ side. Right now, we are living in the midst of a struggle for Christian identity at least in the self-important Christian blogosphere between those who might be called Teavangelicals and “social justice” Christians. It’s the latest configuration of the century-old debate between the social gospel and fundamentalism in American Christianity (there really was a time before this was how Christians understood their “left” and “right”). Both sides define themselves in reaction to each other and put together combinations of Bible verses and logic that support their ideology and trash the other side’s. Jesus did take sides, sometimes very strongly so, but absolutely not according to our terms. He consistently opposed the proud and gave grace to the humble. Two important examples can be found in the stories of how Jesus came to the defense of women who violated social taboos in order to express their love for Him. Continue reading
Sermon preached at Burke UMC Lifesign contemporary service 9/24/2011
Text: Luke 7:36-50
Simon had a hospitality problem. He had invited a group of rabbis to an intimate gathering to hear this fascinating street prophet from Galilee. They had been waiting all week to pick his brain about the theological issues of their day. Some were skeptical. This Jesus character hung out with tax collectors and illiterate fishermen. But his connection with the masses was so electrifying. Simon had heard him speak before. And he really did feel like Jesus was a true prophet. Attendance had been sagging in Simon’s synagogue. He was burned out. He wanted to study the new prophet and find out his secret. He needed inspiration. Continue reading